Trump removes inspector general overseeing $2.3 trillion coronavirus response

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has removed the inspector general tasked with overseeing the government’s coronavirus response, including $2.3 trillion in economic relief, the spokeswoman for that inspector general’s office said on Tuesday.

It was Trump’s most recent maneuver to seize more control of oversight of his administration’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic. The president has lashed out against the inspectors general, watchdogs tasked with safeguarding federal agencies against waste, fraud and abuse.

Glenn Fine, acting inspector general for the Pentagon, was named last week to chair a committee acting as a sort of uber-watchdog over the administration’s response, including health policy and the historic economic stimulus plan.

But Trump has since designated the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general to be the new acting Pentagon inspector general, a spokeswoman said. Fine, who named 11 other IGs to the committee last week, is no longer on the watchdog committee.

Politico first reported the ouster.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the removal of Fine “only strengthens Democrats’ resolve to hold the administration accountable and enforce the multiple strict oversight provisions of the CARES Act.”

The law, which unleashed a flood of money for individuals, families and small businesses, created three different watchdogs consisting of federal government officials and lawmakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created a fourth oversight body last week.

The law, signed on March 27, set aside $80 million to create a committee of inspectors general from across government agencies to review the flow of money and identify fraud, waste or abuse.

On Friday, the White House said Trump intended to nominate Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office, to be the inspector general at the Pentagon.

The White House also announced Trump intended to nominate Brian Miller, a White House lawyer and former inspector general at the General Services Administration, to be the special inspector general for pandemic recovery, responsible for overseeing the U.S. Treasury Department’s handling of funds.

Since then, Trump has mounted several broadsides against the government’s inspectors general. On Tuesday, he accused, without evidence, the U.S. Health Department’s inspector general of having produced a “fake dossier” on American hospitals suffering crippling shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak and suggested she was politically motivated.

On Friday, Trump fired the intelligence community’s inspector general, who was involved in the events leading to impeachment of the Republican president.

“President Trump’s actions are a blatant attempt to degrade the independence of Inspectors General who serve as checks against waste, fraud, and abuse,” Representative Carolyn Maloney, the Democratic chairwoman of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, said in a statement.

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